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Blood, Barbed Wire and Broken Glass – The Art of the Deathmatch

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Deathmatch wrestling is a style of match that is usually incredibly bloody, object heavy and designed to shock audiences with their graphic style of wrestling. Whilst not for everyone, it has a core following that loves the extreme nature of the match type. There are potentially hundreds of types of deathmatch ranging from those with barbed wire, light tubes and gusset boards to some so outlandish they are downright laughable. It is seen all over the world with several promotions heavily featuring it.

So why talk about it?

Deathmatch wrestling has been dragged somewhat unwillingly into the spotlight this week. The over the top style of wrestling has received a load of press following an almost unbelievable match in GCW, a promotion associated with Joey Janela. That match was between beloved actor and part-time wrestler David Arquette and Nick Gage. The match itself was a lot of fun but Arquette has since admitted that he wasn’t quite aware of what he was getting into to at the time. He received several injuries and cuts but should be applauded for fighting through and finishing the match. This has brought out a lot of people questioning the validity of deathmatch wrestling, a style near and dear to my own heart.

The other big incident to draw attention to this style is less about deathmatches themselves and more about the use of objects in wrestling matches on the whole. A video has surfaced online of a match taking place in a Mexican promotion where a wrestler legitimately got injured after a cinderblock was thrown at him. The reasoning behind the injury and throw of doom seemed to be that the other wrestler in the match got angry about some stiff chair shots. That hardly seems like a valid reason to bounce a cinderblock off someone’s head though, does it? While a solid black mark against object heavy wrestling, it shouldn’t be used to condemn it.

“They Can’t Wrestle”

A popular argument thrown against deathmatches is that those who specialise in this branch of wrestling cannot actually wrestle and as such need to mask the lack of talent by smashing things over their heads. This could be considered true in the case of backyard promotions but in big league promotions it is more of a requirement these people can pull off the fundamentals than that they have a high pain threshold.

Promotions like BJW AKA Big Japan Pro Wrestling have both a deathmatch division and a strong style division to give audiences a mixed show. They have created household names through both divisions who are both capable of wrestling a match and surviving in a ring covered in broken glass. They have beloved legends like Jun Kasai, Abdullah Kobayashi and Jaki Numazawa. All of them are loved by their crowds and wear their scars with pride. There are also newer blood that are carrying the torch further with Masashi Takeda being considered one of the best at the craft and only recently being dethroned at a recent BJW show.

These men aren’t hard core monsters either, they are family men. Much like any other wrestler on the planet they do this job to entertain crowds and put money on the table. They are loved by their crowds and their families. In the ring they may look terrifying, hitting each other with glass, scissors and all sorts of other horrible household items, but out of character they are some of the nicest guys on the planet.

Death match wrestling isn’t just limited to Japan, however, with their being CZW in the USA that carries it’s bloody reputation like a badge of honour. They put on deathmatch tournaments and bring in talent from all over the world to its violent world to slug it out. Again most of these people can wrestle and attempt to put on characters much like traditional wrestling.

The Tournament of Death is considered a big deal each year with people from all over the world tuning in to watch it’s violent spectacle. Whilst not as popular as more mainstream and traditional wrestling outlets it still has its place within the wrestling spectrum of the American wrestling scene and it’s own dedicated fan base. Some of WWE’s most beloved legends like Mick Foley and Terry Funk were experts in deathmatch wrestling. Not to mention the success of ECW a promotion that often specialised in hardcore wrestling and gave WWE some of it’s best.

Lastly there is the UK. The British wrestling scene is booming at the moment and like any good scene it offers a diverse range of match types. Deathmatches and hardcore matches are just as popular now as they have ever been. Icons like Jimmy Havoc, Paul Robinson, Mickey Whiplash, Jack Jester and Spike Trivet have been forged from these match types and their dedication to their cause. Whilst perhaps not as common as the traditional style or the emergence of British Strong Style and Catch Wrestling, it is still often on British match cards and it is never too surprising when weapons can find their way into matches.

What They Offer

Wrestling is probably more diverse now than it ever has been. There are so many different styles, promotions and match types now that any fan can be spoilt for choice. WWE is still the juggernaut of the scene often offering the most diversity of product from traditional matches to Extreme Rules, Unsanctioned matches and I Quit matches. NJPW is the home of Strong Style and exciting limit pushing offense that sometimes embraces the hardcore (especially now Jericho is on the scene) and often introduces chairs into it’s matches for spots and story devices. Other promotions like FREEDOMS, BJW and DDT offer a range of different match types from deathmatches to comedy matches and often cater to the more outlandish tastes whilst also offering matches for those who want something more “normal.”

Deathmatches are a more extreme form of the traditional street fight. When boiled down to their essence they are a match where an extreme element is added to make the match seem more dangerous. Wrestlers will take part in the ultimate battle of one-upmanship for entertainment as they bring in more OTT weapons or pull off some risky spots. Whilst some are played up for comedy including the likes of the bathhouse deathmatch or the insanely named No Rope Electrified Barbed Wire Swimming Pool Dynamite Double Hell Deathmatch from FMW. That match is internet famous for the fact that someone got Kayfabe gutted by a sickle. Matches like that are so unbelievably over the top that no one should take them seriously. They are an art form based on shock and spectacle ultimately designed for fun.

Not to mention that deathmatches are probably one of the most extreme ways to show off a wrestler’s fighting spirit.

Fighting Spirit and the will to win are two of the biggest things a wrestler can showcase behind their latent wrestling ability. It’s one thing to show how long you can fight through a submission hold, which is never easy in of itself, it’s another to fight throw broken glass, barbed wire and other contraptions and still come back for more. Whereas some wrestlers prefer to exchange chops and strikes, others would rather headbutt each other with gusset boards embedded in their heads.

Deathmatch wrestling is still rooted in wrestling tradition even if that is the only thing it borrows from it. Audiences will still rally behind their favourites whether they’re fighting with their move set or a box cutter. To discount deathmatch wrestling purely because it is more extreme than it’s common counterpart is laughable. It is more violent and deranged yes but it still comes down to what makes wrestling well wrestling. Two or more people fighting based on a story until there is a winner. The only difference is that deathmatches often have a lot more items involved.

The Danger Zone

Another argument against deathmatches is that they are dangerous. That people who take part in these match types and observe these match types are in more danger than those who watch the average wrestling match. Whilst this may be the case given the objects involved, those who perform these matches are often trained to do it safely. I doubt half the guys in BJW would allow the things that happen to them to happen if the person delivering them wasn’t capable of doing so safely. It may not appear safe and yes there are cuts and scars but they are intended to be as small as possible. Again a deathmatch wrestlers scars are a sign of pride as it shows the wars they have been through.

In response to the impressionability of wrestling, it’s really no different to any other type of wrestling. Every type of wrestling has a do not try this at home warning. Anyone who practices backyard wrestling or tries to copy the moves be them traditional or weapons based, is potentially in danger. A punch or suplex can injure someone as much as a chair shot. Accidents will happen with any style and impressionability is a problem any type of wrestling. To claim that one style of wrestling is more prone to this than another is just lazy.

In Conclusion

Death match wrestling isn’t for everyone. It was never meant to be. Promotions that specialise in it are often smaller with dedicated cult followings. Does that mean it should be demonised? Absolutely not. The wrestlers are still dedicated to their craft and these days are more likely to be versed in multiple wrestling styles. I understand that I’ll probably get some flak for defending the style but it’s a style close to my heart. I grew up on Attitude Era Street fights and have always adored the object heavy style of wrestling.

I enjoy most styles of wrestling and can appreciate that a lot of people will be put off by the graphic violence involved. They are entitled to their opinions but it seems that wrestling communities would rather tear down and mock and rather than live and let live First they came for the flips now they’re coming for the death matches.

If a style isn’t to your taste, just don’t watch it. Wrestling styles are like film genres, if you aren’t into a film, you won’t watch it. Why don’t people take the same approach to wrestling? With deathmatches being so niche a style it should be easy enough to avoid. Wrestling isn’t perfect nor will it ever be. To dismiss an entire style because it is not to your tastes is unfair to fans of the style and disrespectful to those who put their bodies on the line for it. Deathmatches won’t go anywhere and I will always be here to enjoy them.

John is a UK based wrestling obsessive who still wants to believe the Bullet Club is fine. He is always tearing the business apart and first realised wrestling was for him when he saw Mankind fall from the top of the cell at King of the Ring 1998.

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